“DAD!” I ran over, engulfed quickly into his hug. “It’s so good to see you again!”
Dad laughed, messing up my hair. “Missed you too, kiddo.”
My trip home had been with the Fluff kittens and Uncle Royce, since I didn’t feel very comfortable with Dad paying for a round trip ticket for himself. The entire trip back Zaid seemed distracted and unhappy. I asked him what was wrong and he shrugged, not wanting to answer me. Paris pressed herself against the window and drew a lot. Clifford slept, drooling on his dad’s shoulder. Anni, meanwhile, couldn’t be taken away from her phone and kept saying things like ‘miss you so much’ and she got really red a few times. Definitely a girlfriend.
Dad was waiting at the airport and we talked part of the way home, until I fell sound asleep; I woke up when we pulled into the driveway and even then I felt like I could drop off at any second. But before I went to bed I had something very important to do.
“Angel! Look at you!” I swept my baby sister up into my arms and twirled her around. She squealed in delight, clapping her hands. “You’ve gotten so big! I wish I could have been there at your first birthday!” I hugged her tightly and she yanked at my hair, not letting go until Suzanne finally pried her little fingers off of me. I gave my stepmom a hug then found Arty. During the winter holidays we had been almost the same height and now I was a fraction of an inch taller, something I celebrated by putting her into a headlock.
My first night home and I had that stupid end-of-the-world vision. The rain, the screaming. The green-eyed doctor. This time I tried to get closer to the other person wearing glasses–the male that my future self was yelling at. As I made my way over I noticed yet someone else. Someone deeper in the forest. Shadows. Two people. Something familiar about the way one of them moved… There was just too much information that it felt like my head would explode when the lightning struck. My future self screamed as he/I died (possibly?) and then I woke up gasping for air in my bedroom with my entire family standing around me with worried looks on their faces due to the fact I had been screaming about someone destroying the world.
“I’m f-fine–I’m fine–” I gasped, trying to stop shivering from the cold of the rain…
Dad pulled me to my feet. “What–“
“I’m fine!” I cut him off, pulling back and feeling dizzy. “I’ll be fine, this–this happened before it’s nothing.”
“Someone trying to destroy the world is nothing?” Arty asked, pushing past Dad so she could grab one of my wrists with one hand while her other hand pressed against my forehead. “You’re shivering but I don’t think you have a fever.”
“From the rain,” I mumbled but I don’t think anyone heard me. It was pretty cold in my vision–almost like the rain could have been on the verge of snow–but the leaves were all green. “Notebook. Notebook!” I managed to squirm out of my sister’s hold and dove for my dream journal. Leaves I wrote down. What about the leaves? Cold?? Wet. Wait there was a connection. I had it for a split-second and now it was gone, out of my grasp. “No. No! There’s something. What is it?” I looked at my family as if expecting them to know.
Suzanne came over, her hand going to my cheek. “Do you need to go to the emergency room?” She sounded very concerned and her hand moved to check my forehead just like Arty had.
“I’m fine. I just… there was something about the leaves. I don’t remember now. And the cold.” I shivered and returned to my bed, grabbing my sheet to wrap around my shoulders. “I’ll be fine though.” Once the rain stops. But the rain had stopped. It wasn’t partially nonexistent future rain making me shiver; it was fear.
The next few days my family were more hover-y than usual. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore and began spending most my time outside which kept me pretty safe from Dad and Arty, though Reeny would sometimes insist on taking walks with me. I felt relieved when I had another vision just so I could prove to them my life hadn’t been taken over by apocalypse-ish nightmares. Thankfully after that my family relented a bit on their worry.
Most my time was, as usual, spent with Grandpa and Angel. Arty actually had classes in the summer. College courses. It would be her last year of high school and she wanted to get started already on her intended major (forensics). So she spent most her time either at the college or else holed up in her room studying. We did manage to spend some time together but not very much. As much as I wanted to spend more time with her I also felt glad she was going after something she felt passionate about.
And speaking of passion–or maybe not so much–Tal and I texted almost daily. I felt like things were going too fast… or too slow, it was so hard to tell sometimes.
I frowned at the text and spent several minutes making sure my reply would help and not make her angrier or more depressed.
I wondered what would happen if I ran away. Just… ran away to a far off country. Changed my name. Disguised myself.
r u there? she texted a moment later. im sorry i shouldnt have said that?
I swallowed, hands shaking a bit as I typed a reply. i dont know where we stand either. but i like u…
There. I said it and whatever happened, happened.
Two days later Tal and I became ‘official’, or sort of official. We admitted we really liked each other and wanted to try dating once we returned to school. I told Dad about her, showing him a picture of the two of us from the dance.
It felt weird, having a girl-probably-soon-girlfriend. I asked Dad if he felt this way the first time he ever had a girl- or boyfriend. Dad laughed and said no it felt natural. Suzanne looked up from where she was cleaning the mantel and snorted. “Your father’s a dork, he probably totally freaked out that someone liked him.”
Dad scowled. “That’s not true. I was cool and suave.”
Suzanne laughed so hard she nearly fell over.
A week after Tal and I became pre-official Sam came to visit. Dad asked about Sam and said he could visit. So the extra bed was set up in my room again and Sam soon arrived. He looked tired when he got off the plane, dark circles under his eyes. But he grinned and punched my arm.
We stayed up pretty late that night talking. Eventually I drifted off to sleep though, the cool night air breezing in through the open windows. I had a couple pleasant dreams before a very quick vision. Nothing big really, just a small 2 minute vision of a proposal. I woke up at the end though and rolled out of bed, turning towards the extra bed, expecting to see Sam sitting there. But he wasn’t. Nor was he asleep. He just wasn’t there.
Frowning I slipped out of my room to look at the bathroom door. Open and revealing a dark, empty bathroom. Where had Sam gone? A bit of light shone up the stairs so I crept downstairs. I barely went down a couple before I heard the voices in the kitchen.
“–you, sir,” Sam said.
“No problem.” Dad’s voice. I heard a chair scraping and someone sitting down. “Sugar?”
“No thanks, sir.”
“You can call me Noah, you know.”
“All right… uh, Noah…”
I started to head down the stairs then stopped at my dad’s next words. “I just wanted to let you know you don’t need to answer me tonight. It’s gonna be a standing offer.”
What? I wondered.
“Th–thanks…” followed by a slurping noise. “I dunno. I don’t want to impose.”
“You’re not an imposition, all right? You’re Apollo’s best friend. You’ve been so good for him and I want you to know you’re as good as family here.”
“S… sir… I mean, uh, Noah. Thank you. That means… I just… haha, sorry, guess I’m having a hard time talking. It means a lot. Thank you. I don’t know how Apollo would feel though…”
“Well, you managed not to kill each other after eight and a half months of living together already,” Dad laughed and Sam joined in.
“True. But school is one thing, this is… his home.”
Living together? Was Dad offering to let Sam stay here the whole summer? I jolted in surprise, knocking my arm against the wall. After a few seconds Sam said, “Come on down Apollo, I can hear you.”
I thumped down the stairs and poured into the kitchen where Dad and Sam sat with coffee mugs. I tried to pretend I hadn’t heard anything but that didn’t fly. “I didn’t hear much,” I promised. “Just the last bit really.” I looked between them hoping one would explain. “Sorry I interrupted. I’ll go back to bed.”
I turned to head back but Dad said, “Would you mind if Sam stays the summer? Not saying he will just wanting to make sure you’d be okay with it.”
“I would love it!” I said brightly, flashing a grin at Sam who beamed back. “But what about your family?”
His smile wavered just slightly then he shrugged. “They wouldn’t even notice I’m gone.”
Dad cleared his throat and stood up. “Why don’t you two just head back to bed, all right? It’s been a long day what with the plane trip and all.”
“Yes sir. Uh, Noah. Thank you.” Sam took another swig of the coffee then followed me back to my bedroom.
I wanted to apologize for the obvious foot-in-mouth comment I made. I just didn’t know how. Or why it was so… foot-in-mouth. Did his family really not care about him? He had never spoken about them, I realized. None of your business unless he wants to tell you, I thought as I climbed into bed. He said he had secrets too and if this is one of them, don’t push him about it…
For several days we had a blast. Hanging out, chatting, going out and about. Movies, malls, beaches. We got a few stares since Sam never bothered to cover his pointed ears but neither of us cared. Nobody made it a problem until the beach incident and that wasn’t completely because of Sam’s pointed ears.
We were down at the beach… a quieter part of the beach usually only locals went to, so it typically wasn’t very crowded. We were standing in the surf kicking sand and water at each other and laughing. A group of kids our age approached us. The girls with sour looks on their faces and the guys with the ‘we’re assholes’ looks on their faces. I knew immediately we’d be run off.
The biggest asshole laughed and to my surprise didn’t insult Sam but called me a name due to the darkness of my skin. I stood in absolute shock. I had never been called that before. Of course I had heard other people of color called that on tv shows, movies, in books, online… but I had never been called it and it felt like he just took a knife and stabbed me between the eyes.
Sam spat out a cussword and stepped forward. “Don’t you ever call him–or anyone else–that again!”
The guy folded his arms. “Or what, fairy-boy? You gonna shake your wings at me?”
Sam’s jaw tightened. “I’m an elf. Not a fairy.”
That sent them all into convulsions. “Ooooh so scared of the elf-boy!” and other comments like that emerged between the laughter.
“I don’t give a damn what you call me but you better apologize to my friend here.”
“Or what?” The big guy stepped closer to Sam. They were about the same height but the other guy had a good forty pounds of muscle compared to Sam.
Sam didn’t hesitate. He grabbed the guy by the front of his shirt and lifted him clear off the ground. He let him dangle there for a second before slamming him down into the sand. Hard. He put a foot on the guy’s chest and bent in real close. “Racists like you deserve to be punished,” Sam hissed in a tone that scared me. “I’m not afraid to punish you.”
The other guys finally reacted, all going for Sam. Sam lithely avoided all their attacks and landed all his response attacks on them. It wasn’t sim fu or anything like that. I don’t know what it was. A fighting style I had never seen before. None of his punches were even landing though so–oh. I finally realized he had something in his hands. A piece of deadwood or something. A stick that spun around lightning fast, mostly a blur.
Then suddenly he stopped. The sharpest end of the deadwood just barely touching the biggest guy’s neck. “Apologize.” Sam’s voice was hard as stone.
“I’m s-s-s-sorry!” the guy gasped out. “I’m sorry! Let me go–I’m sorry–I’m sorry!”
Sam tossed the piece of deadwood then began walking to where we had left our stuff. I followed mutely. We gathered out stuff and began walking back to my house.
Halfway there Sam sighed. “I’m sorry, I probably just made it difficult for you to be here, didn’t I?”
I shrugged. “I never saw those guys before. I’m sure it’ll be fine. You scared them. Thanks. Uh… thanks.” I clutched at my backpack’s strap tightly. “What was… that? I’ve never seen a fighting style like it! I didn’t know you were so strong!”
His response sounded like the wind rustling through the trees. He repeated it a few times and I made out a couple vague vowel-y sounding things. “It’s an elvish way of fighting,” he finally said, rubbing his face. “Usually done with longer and pointier sticks but I worked with what I had there.”
“So you learned that growing up or was it more recent?”
“G… growing up…” Sam trailed off, going a few shades paler. Territory he didn’t like, obviously, so I didn’t ask anything else.
To my surprise he continued the conversation after we got back to my place. We hung out in the clubhouse out in the backyard and Sam coughed a few times before he told me not all elvish kids learned that style. I inquired if it was a military sort of thing and he shrugged, mumbling something incoherent.
“Not quite. It’s…” Sam gave me a hollow look. “I’ve kept a lot of things from you.”
“I know. I don’t care though.” I was super curious but I did not want him to say things he wasn’t ready to say. If he wanted privacy I’d give him privacy.
“Nobody knows this about me.” He looked up at the clubhouse’s ceiling for a second then looked back at me. “Usually only those connected with protecting the royal family learns that sort of fighting. Usually.” He gave a distant smile. “I grew up in the… aw shit, it’s hard to figure out how to say the tribe’s name in English. I guess… the closest proximity would be the Willow Rain tribe?? It’s more like the sound the willow leaves make when it rains and water drips off the branches. Anyway… ages ago… like, before I was even born, the queen got freaked out about the whole… supernatural world versus the human world. She saw the fighting and wanted the tribe to keep as far from humans as possible. It used to be we could come and go as we please but she cut that off. Anyway, around the time I was born the queen decreed anyone who wanted to learn that style of fighting could. She wanted us to be ready in case we were ever attacked…”
“And when you got older you signed up?”
“No. I was sort of… born to it, I guess. My parents wanted me to learn it. They wanted me to be strong. The best I could be. I had to be better than everyone else… not just those around my own age but aged warriors and palace guards.” Sam’s face darkened at that. “I trained as hard as I could but it was never enough.
“One night when I was training the guy I was training with began to tell me about the big fight that your father was killed in. I was so curious and asked questions. He said that he had wanted to go when he got wind of it but the queen wouldn’t let him. He said he felt if the queen had let her fighters go then maybe it wouldn’t have been as…” Sam trailed off and looked white as a sheet. “I’m sorry, I guess I shouldn’t be saying that stuff.”
“It’s okay,” I said though of course I wondered what would have happened. Would my dad have died if these elvish warriors had gone…? “It wasn’t… um… I don’t know the clan or tribe that Reeny’s father was from though.”
“No, from what Reeny’s told me about her elvish family she’s descended from the–auugh.” Sam screwed his face up. “Acorn… Wind…?”
“The sound acorns make when the wind blows through them?” I offered and Sam gave me a smile nodding. “Okay you guys seriously have awesome names for your clans and tribes.”
“Haha, thanks.” He looked a bit proud of that. “Anyway I began talking to this guard a lot. All the time. He used to come and go from the human world and he told me about it. He showed me things, too. Books and comic books. He taught me a lot… and I began to feel that the ban on coming and going shouldn’t be there. Like, we should go into the mortal world if we want. So… I began to come and go as I wanted.”
“I snuck through the barriers all the time. I went into a human town near our woods. I loved it. I’d go to the movies, the arcade, eat cheeseburgers–I remember one summer night there was a fair and oh Watcher, it was one of the best nights of my life.” He tipped his head back as if relishing in the memory. “I was eleven.”
“Holy cow, when did you start sneaking out?”
“Nine. The guard helped me. He knew my secret. Wouldn’t give it up if his life depended on it…” Suddenly Sam looked tired. “And eventually it almost did. I was caught coming back in and oh Watcher my parents were so pissed. They knew an adult had to be helping me and tried to get me to give up the name but I refused. I was whipped and locked in my room for three days with only water and bread.”
I sucked in air and felt dizzy. “E… eleven…?”
“Eleven,” Sam replied and swung around to face me. “My parents began questioning everyone. Nobody would come forward as my helper. When they let me out of my room I went right back to escaping into the human world, thinking I could do it. Three times I did then the fourth time I was caught again. This time everyone in the tribe knew what I had been doing. It caused some issues. Some people thought maybe we should be allowed to come and go. It caused a lot of arguing. I spoke out against the ban.”
“Yeah. Why should we stay hidden from the humans, I wanted to know. I argued till I was blue in the face. I fought bitterly with my parents. I refused to back down.” Sam shook his head. “My parents gave me the ultimatum. Stay in the tribe and live the life I was born to live, or abandon everyone for the human world.”
“Now you know pretty much everything. Why I don’t care if we’re hidden. Why I hate being cooped up. Why your dad offered to let me stay the summer. I’m pretty much an orphan. I usually live at this research and guidance facility near Moonlight Falls, for supernaturals.” Sam crinkled his nose up. “Casimir lives there too so I’d definitely prefer being here to being there.”
“Dude, you know you’re my bro and welcome to stay here as long as my dad’s okay with it which he is.”
“Thanks.” Sam fiddled with the hem of his shirt then sighed very loudly. “I guess there’s something else. Something literally no one in this world knows outside my tribe so it’s… it’s a big deal, okay? No… no telling.”
“I’d never tell,” I promised.
Sam averted his gaze. “My parents… were… the queen and king…”
You could have knocked me over with a feather, as the saying goes. “WHAT?!”
“Shhhh!” Sam flapped his hands. “I’m not saying it again! You heard me, and nobody–I mean NOBODY–is to know, okay? You’re my bro so I just… thought I’d tell you.”
“So you’re literally an elf prince.”
“I guess I used to be. Not anymore. I don’t have a family. I’m just Sam now.” His eyes rolled back towards the sky and he gave a very disgruntled sound. “And something else. I er… well, before I left I was the–uhh–…”
“It’s in the past but, I mean, you’re my best friend and–well, I was the crown prince. I would have been the king.”